Homeless youth left behind during pandemic

MEDFORD, Ore. – Southern Oregon is no stranger to homeless youth, but non-profits fighting against the issue told NBC5 News, this year hits different. Most Southern Oregon schools aren’t doing in-person learning due to COVID-19 creating a separate issue for some students.

“A big part of what public schools are required to do with regards to homeless students is to find them. The reason is so we know that they’re enrolled if they need extra support academically if they’re getting it,” said Mary Ferrell, the Executive Director of the Maslow Project in Medford, a non-profit that helps homeless youth with resources.

She said SchoolHouse Connection found 420,000 students nationwide are unaccounted for. However, there’s no way to know how many are in the Rogue Valley.

“Finding them is really about one, tracking their educational progress making sure they are staying enrolled. But two how to provide that wrap-around support,” said Ferrell.

The Almeda Fire only added to the economic problems people are facing locally due to the pandemic.

The Oregon Education Department McKenny Vento Report states the Medford School District now has the second-highest homeless student numbers in the state.

“I think Southern Oregon has always had a high number of homeless children especially. We tend to have chronic poverty and generational poverty,” said Ferrell.

Another issue raised with current homeless students is their mental health. Some of the students who can make it to their virtual classrooms said their struggling.

“They’re like, do I have to do another zoom call today. I really don’t want to be on zoom again. I rather go for a walk. I’d rather spend some time with somebody, I’d rather be with my friends,” Bill Hauge, Services Coordinator for Hearts With a Mission, a non-profit that shelters homeless and foster kids.

He says their facility looks a bit different since the pandemic started.

“We’re having to limit the contacts they’re having with people because we’re doing community living here, so we have to be really careful,” said Hauge.

However, both non-profits agree just because the numbers aren’t showing an increase in homeless youth locally doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there, or even, getting worse.

Both non-profits told NBC5 once the eviction moratorium ends it’ll have an even bigger problem on its hands, as more kids could be forced from their homes.

The Maslow Project said the state could see a 40 to 50% increase in homelessness if the program ends on its current end date December 31st.

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